Financial Aid Advice

What Every Gap Year Student Should Know About Financial Aid

Posted by Paul Garrard, M.B.A. on October 21, 2020

What is a gap year? A “gap year” is a span of time between the end of undergraduate education and the beginning of dental school. It can be longer than a year, depending on your circumstances.

When taking a gap year, there are important steps every student should consider or take if they anticipate needing financial aid for dental school, dental hygiene programs or any other graduate degree program following their gap year.

Keep Your Loans From College in Good Standing

In general, federal loans have a six-month grace period that starts as soon as you graduate or drop below half-time status. This means any federal loans you have from college will be coming due in the middle of your gap year. These loans will be placed into deferment when you matriculate in dental school the following year, but you will be in repayment for at least part of your gap year. Be sure to work closely with your loan servicer to either select a repayment plan when they come due or, if needed, postpone them until you matriculate into dental school and they are placed into deferment status. You can find your loan servicer for your federal loans at Just look for the “dashboard” that lists all your federal student loans. 

Pay Off Consumer Debts Before You Matriculate

Your school’s cost of attendance (COA), also called the financial aid budget, sets the limit on how much financial aid you can have each year from all sources (grants, scholarships and loans), but it cannot include consumer debts, such as credit card payments. Therefore, it is extremely important that you pay these off in full before you start dental school, otherwise you will be over budget before you even start school.

Contact Your School’s Financial Aid Office

Until you are accepted, the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend cannot notify you about how much and what type of financial aid you will receive, but you don’t have to wait until you’re accepted to actually apply for financial aid. Checking with your school’s financial aid office should help ensure you don’t miss any important deadlines for grants and scholarships, which are the best types of financial aid since they do not have to be repaid. Have your financial aid application completed so as soon as you are accepted, they can start processing your aid application.

Consider Service Commitment Programs for Alternative Funding

Take a look at programs like the U.S. Armed Forces, the National Health Service Corps and the Indian Health Service, for example, which provide financial support for tuition and living expenses in exchange for service. While not for everyone, these programs are a great way to either eliminate or greatly reduce your student loan debt from dental school.

Be Careful Where You Get Your Information About Financial Aid

There is a tremendous amount of incomplete and inaccurate information regarding financial aid programs, especially when it comes to student loans, repayment plans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Simply put, don’t believe everything you hear or read about these programs, especially on social media. Rather, work with your school’s financial aid office for the latest and best information on how to pay for dental school, including any updates on financial aid programs.

Use All Available Resources to Help

While you should always check with your school’s financial aid office first, ADEA GoDental has a substantial amount of information on paying for dental school under the Money Matters and Financial Aid Advice sections that may help.


Additional Resources for Gap Year Students:

About Paul Garrard, M.B.A.:

Paul Gerrard

Paul S. Garrard, M.B.A.
Founder and President
PGPresents, LLC
Independent Student Loan Consulting
ADEA Senior Advisor for Student Financial Services

With more than 35 years of experience in higher education and student financial aid, Paul Garrard is one of the most well-known and in-demand educational debt management experts in the nation, especially in the health professions communities. Mr. Garrard currently serves as a consultant for the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) as their Senior Advisor for Student Financial Services.

He has extensive experience in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors of higher education. In 2008, he started his own consulting firm, PGPresents, LLC, designed to help promote responsible borrowing and responsible repayment.

His specialty is helping health professions graduates, including dental school graduates, manage their student loan portfolios by helping them develop repayment strategies that meet their career and financial goals. He also uses this expertise through ADEA to help inform incoming dental students about borrowing responsibly.

He is a nationally known speaker on financing a dental education and is a regular speaker at the ADEA GoDental Recruitment Event held prior to the ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition. 

He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Samford University and an M.B.A. from the University of Georgia. Mr. Garrard works out of his home in Shepherdstown, WV.